Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cyclamen Hill

Generally speaking there are two seasons in Israel - the Winter and the Summer. The winter is cool to cold with a few showers, and the summer is hot and rain-free. Winter in Israel starts in October-November and ends in March. It is is the most green and lush time of year. The rains of December, January and February bring out a fabulous display of wildflowers and the entire country turns green.
Cyclamen, rakefet in Hebrew (Latin name: Cyclamen persicum, the Persian cyclamen), are one of the popular winter flowers in Israel. It is a delicate flower, but it can grow almost anywhere, even in rocks and shady forest groves. Rakefot bloom throughout late winter and into spring, adding a touch of beauty to cool-weather hikes. They range in colour from pale pink to deep purple. Its petals grow upward instead of outward, so the flowers look like they're stretching up to the sky. It is said that King Solomon saw the rakefet as the model for his crown, and one of the Hebrew nicknames that has stuck to it is "Nezer Shlomo," King Solomon’s crown. The tubers at the root of these cyclamen plants have historically been used to make soap.
While the flower is a protected species in Israel, it is by no means rare and there are several places in the country where huge carpets of pink cyclamen can currently be seen covering the ground. Mister Handmade in Israel and I headed off to "Cyclamen Hill", south of Moshav Tal Shahar, where the hill is covered with cypress trees and, right now, a huge carpet of pink, white and purple cyclamen blossoms, along with the occasional calanit and the light-purple iris called Tsaharon (Barbary Nut). The latter means in Hebrew "noon-time", since it opens its flowers in the noon time.
We drove down a dirt road into a wooded area, with cars parked in every imaginable spot, as is usual in Israel. A hand-painted sign pointed us in the direction of the hill. We quickly spotted our first rakefet, then more and more. Unmarked paths crisscrossed the grove in all directions, and we were able to walk around and enjoy the sight of the cyclamen without stepping on any.
We wandered away from the crowds (Israelis really love their wild flowers!) and found somewhere to put down our blanket. Armed with snacks and the weekend's newspaper, Mister Handmade in Israel enjoyed the peace and quiet (apparently when you have seen one cyclamen, you've seen them all!), whilst I took yet more photos and enjoyed moving from one cluster of rakefot to another. The sun's rays danced through the branches of the trees as I took my pictures. It was a magical sight.
Afterwards we made a return visit to our favourite goat farm at Tal Shahar, recently renamed the Iza Pziza Dairy. The name might have changed, but the fresh, organic goat cheese and yoghurt I purchased was delicious, and the goats were just as cute as ever!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Made with Love

My last three blog posts have been devoted to my youngest son and his Bar Mitzvah celebrations. There is still more to show you, but I think it's time for a change of scene.
Mister Handmade in Israel likes my papercuts. He is also passionate about football. This Valentine's Day I combined the two things and created this hand cut card.
He loved it.
If you would like to order an "I Love You" card for a special occasion or just to tell someone how much you care, you can do so right here.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Gadi's Bar Mitzvah Card

So you've seen the invitations, now it's time to show you the card I made for my youngest son's Bar Mitzvah. When Gadi returned from his youth movement's summer camp this last year he was thrilled to show us the green and orange striped tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, that he had been given. There are no specific rules regarding what colour a tallit must be. The fringes that hang off the four corners, called tzitzit, and the measurements of the tallit are the important details. Traditionally, tallitot have white backgrounds, as well as blue or black stripes, but the tallit Gadi received has orange and green stripes - the colours of the NOAM youth movement - and he was thrilled with it!
A Jewish boy who has reached the age of 13 wears a tallit for morning prayer, during the week, as well as on Shabbat and other holy days. Gadi wore his tallit for the very first time when he was called up to read from the Torah on the first "Torah-reading-day" (the Torah is publicly read in the synagogue on Shabbat, Monday and Thursday mornings, holidays and fast days) that followed his 13th birthday. He then read the whole weekly portion again on Shabbat, all the time wearing his treasured green and orange tallit.
I have also shown him wearing a kippa on his card. In Orthodox synagogues, men are required to cover their heads as a means of showing respect for God. At the time of creating this card, Gadi favoured a rather tatty red kippa, but he is now the proud owner of a Hull City kippa, to match the one Grandpa wears.
Next to the portrait of Gadi wearing his tallit I added a Sefer Torah. The Torah, or Torah Scroll, contains The Five Books of Moses that were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. It is carefully written by an expert scribe on parchment (animal skin) and is kept in the ark of the synagogue and taken out to be read during services.
Also pictured on the card are tefillin. Tefillin are cubic black leather boxes with leather straps containing four hand-written texts from the Bible, which Orthodox Jewish men wear on their head and their arm during weekday morning prayer. Jewish boys start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah. Above the tefillin is the Magen David (Shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David), the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today. It is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol and doesn’t have any religious significance in Judaism, but it is one of the symbols most commonly associated with the Jewish people.
Finally, the card I made for Gadi displays his name prominently in Hebrew, as well as the number 13, the age that Jewish boys become Bar Mitzvah. He was thrilled to receive it just a few days before his big weekend. Here he is proudly displaying it, looking ever so slightly nervous in anticipation of the days ahead.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Gadi's Bar Mitzvah

I haven't posted anything here for almost a month, and that's a very long time for me! We've been busy you see. My youngest son was Bar Mitzvah and the many, many months of planning, discussing, emailing and more planning finally came to a conclusion when we celebrated this special occasion with family and friends over a wonderful weekend back in January. This first photo, showing Gadi holding the artwork I created for his Bar Mitzvah invitation, seems the perfect way to start this post.
Gadi is a very keen reader. I have mentioned it once or twice in previous posts. I simply had to show him with a book in hand on his Bar Mitzvah invitation. He also loves to draw, so I put a bunch of pencils into his other hand. Thankfully he seems to have stopped chewing them, so these ones are clean and sharp! Gadi is wearing a green t-shirt with the badge of his youth group, NOAM, on it. (NOAM is an acronym for No'ar Masorti, Masorti Youth, a Zionist youth movement.) His precious phone is next to him, and a computer is open behind him, with the logo of Garry's Mod, a sandbox physics game, and one of Gadi's favourites, on it. 'G' of course also stands for Gadi...
Above the portrait of Gadi I added his name in English and Hebrew, along with a bright red number 13, the age that Jewish boys become Bar Mitzvah. My kids are bilingual and happily jump between the English that we speak at home, and the Hebrew that they use at school and with their friends. In fact, Gadi's Bar Mitzvah invitations were printed on two sides, one side in English and one side in Hebrew, to accommodate our various guests. Such is the life of an immigrant.
I ordered invitations, place cards, thank you cards and Birkat Hamazon booklets (Grace After Meals) all showing my son on the front. I actually had the artwork professionally photographed rather than scanned, to give it a little depth. I am perfectly aware that most of my guests couldn't have cared less if the picture was flat or not but, hey, it made me happy!
The invitations went out and pretty soon our guests were arriving from near and far, some for just a few days and others for much longer. Gadi, at the age of 13, is not the most devout young man, but I am proud to say that he did an amazing job in the synagogue, reading the whole weekly portion of the Torah and then the Haftara, a section from the Book of Prophets. The word haftara actually means conclusion. He then gave a special sermon giving his thoughts about the portion he had just read. His portion included the Ten Commandments and he had, ahem, a few things to say about their relevance today. He spoke loudly and confidently in front of roughly 200 people. Whether everyone agreed with him or not, they all recognized how well he had prepared his thoughts and put them into words.
Photo credit: Gal Magnetix
Afterwards it was time to celebrate! 25 guests came to eat with us on Friday night, and then we were 32 for Saturday lunch. We were packed rather like sardines in a tin in our flat but everyone ate well and enjoyed the company. The following day we partied some more at the nearby Emek Ayalon Ranch. DJ Raphi was fantastic. Our Bar Mitzvah party was a blast thanks to him. A special mention must also go to our talented balloon lady, Ruti of Designed by Ruti, who made the yurt at the ranch look incredible!
Now it's all over. People keep asking me if I am sad. I'm not. I'm happy that we had such a fabulous weekend. I'm happy that all the effort we put in to planning the Bar Mitzvah paid off. I'm happy that my smart but sometimes chaotic and crazy son achieved so much. Now I have a little more time on my hands (but not much!) and my son has a unique piece of framed artwork on his bedroom wall, handmade by Mum, to remind him of a very special occasion.